CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Steve Clifford said he isn’t one to back down from challenges.
That might make him a good fit for Charlotte. The Bobcats are a long way from being a legitimate NBA playoff contender.
The team introduced Clifford as their new head coach at a press conference Wednesday. Clifford becomes the Bobcats’ sixth different coach since the 2006-07 season and inherits a team that went a combined 28-120 over the past two seasons, by far the worst record in the NBA.
“Steve has worked quite a few years in this league and we feel very positive with that with our young competitive core that he is the right fit for us,” said Rod Higgins, Bobcats president of basketball operations.
Clifford said after meeting with Higgins and general manager Rich Cho last week he feels confident they share the same vision for the Bobcats.
“When I met with them I left here thinking that the three of us could work very effectively together,” Clifford said.
His core players includes no big-time NBA stars, but rather young and developing players like four-year NBA veteran Gerald Henderson, second-year veterans Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo and last year’s rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
That may have scared some coaches away, but not Clifford.
He called that foursome “above average competitors,” and said that’s exactly what he wants from his players.
“I think every coach in basketball has his own priorities in terms of judging players, but for me it starts with competitiveness and then skill level, in particular shooting,” Clifford said. “Coach (Bill) Parcells once said he wanted guys who are competitive on their own without the aid of coaches and in this league when you’re playing four and five nights a week there aren’t many times you can address the group and have some magic word to get them to play hard.
“You either have the right kind of guys or you don’t. When you have young guys who are naturally competitive you have the opportunity to build the kind of culture that you want.”
Clifford said there will be an emphasis on improving the team’s defense, pointing out that the top six teams in overall defense this season all reached the quarterfinals of the NBA playoffs.
“Any good coach has a clear and definitive vision of how they want their team to play and practice — and I have that,” Clifford said. “I have seen what the right amount of work and the right amount of communication can do for a team…. Yes, I am inexperienced (as a head coach), but I’m confident and I know how I want to do it.”
Clifford comes to Charlotte after spending last season as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Prior to that he spent five seasons (2007-12) working as an assistant under Stan Van Gundy in Orlando. He was also as an assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy with the Houston Rockets for four years and was an assistant with the New York Knicks for three seasons.
This is his first NBA head coaching job.
Jeff Van Gundy, who now works as a NBA television analyst, believes Clifford is up to the task of building the Bobcats into a competitive team. The Bobcats have only been the playoffs once and have never won a postseason game.
“Jeff is the type of guy who can coach young teams that a rebuilding, teams on the verge of the playoffs and experienced teams, I really believe that,” Jeff Van Gundy said. “I think he has great people skills and he’s a quality basketball coach.”
The Bobcats made the move to hire Clifford one day before he was slated for a second interview with the Milwaukee Bucks for their coaching vacancy.
Clifford replaces Mike Dunlap, who was fired after just one season.
“Anytime you make the tough decision to change you want, if at all possible, to address some of the things that you didn’t get your prior” coach, Higgins said. “We felt very good with making the change with Steve to adhere to some of the issues we might have had here, whether it’s on the court, in the locker room or trying to compete every night. … I think we’re getting close to becoming a very good team.”
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